“Mac fans would have you believe that Macs are rock solid stable and never crash. It's a lie! Trawl the internet, and you don't have to look very far to find anecdotal stories of Macs that are perpetually in a state of crashing. So I guess not as stable and crashproof as we've been led to believe? Bang goes another reason to choose a Mac then...
What is a crash?
Firstly, let's look at what a crash is. A crash, in simple terms, is when when a computer stops responding to user input. However, a distinction should be made between the operating system crashing i.e. being completely irrecoverably unresponsive and an application freezing or quitting unexpectedly. An application having bugs causing it to crash is always a possibility. When it becomes an issue is when it brings the whole OS down with it.
Fortunately, this is rare. Having its underpinnings based on the industry strength UNIX OS, Mac OS X is very stable, and OS crashes are extremely rare. Not impossible, and not never, but not common. And when it does happen, is usually for a reason not related to any inherent instability.
Pre OS X
Although, once upon a time, long long ago, Mac OS did not have a foundation of UNIX it enjoys today.
Mac OS 9 and below let's make no bones about it were a bit 'crashy'. Lack of good memory protection among other things, meant bad behaving applications could very easily bring the OS crashing down with them. As such, if you know of someone who says they had a Mac that always crashed, ask how long ago this was. Things have changed rather dramatically since 2002.
The spinning beachball of death
Also, a distinction needs to be made between a crash, and unresponsive computer resources. A computer can do computational tasks very quickly, but there will be bottlenecks.
The CPU can run faster than the RAM; the RAM can run faster than the hard disk; the hard disk can run faster than a LAN (local area network) or Internet. So if for instance a network becomes clogged and unresponsive, that becomes a bottleneck, and the computer can grind to a halt until that resource responds again; in the case of OS X, this will often manifest itself in the mouse pointer turning into a spinning ball; colloquially known as 'The Spinning Beachball Of Death'. This is not necessarily a crash.
What causes crashing?
As touched on before, if a modern OS X equipped Mac is crashing a lot, there will invariably be a reason beyond its user being very unlucky. The most common causes are:
1. A hardware fault.
The OS expects its hardware to be in order. If it is not, instability can result. Even something as simple as the RAM not being seated correctly, or the computer overheating due to insufficient cooling, can result in instability. Hardware is hardware, and sometimes it can break or go wrong, no matter which platform you are using.
2. Bad driver software.
Normal application software runs on top of the OS; like its contained in a sandbox. As such, if this application is 'buggy', any instability it has will usually not spill outside of that sandbox. It can usually only ever crash itself.
Driver software however, by its nature of what it needs to do i.e. provide an interface between the OS and a piece of hardware will need more direct access to the hardware, and as such, needs to dig deeper into the OS where potentially it can do more damage. As such, if this driver software is 'buggy', it has more of an opportunity to cause systemwide instability.
Compared to Windows?
I haven't mentioned Windows up to yet, but as the default computing platform choice, here is where a comparison is necessary.
The Mac and Windows concepts differs in one major area; The Mac platform is an integrated appliance of an Apple OS on Apple hardware. The Windows platform is a modular approach of a Microsoft OS on an almost infinite variety of interchangeable hardware. Apple controls much more about what hardware its computers have than Microsoft does for its platform. As such, OS X will have driver software for much of what kind of hardware you will find in a Mac computer, built in, tested, and approved or written by Apple. This makes instability from bad driver software to be quite uncommon.
This is in stark contrast to the Windows platform where there is much less certainty what kind of hardware it will be running on. This means few drivers can be built into the OS as standard, leaving the door open for much more likelihood of buggy drivers being installed, with potential instability and conflicts resulting. This is one of the costs of choice; the choice to choose hardware with bad drivers.
So in summary...
...a Mac can become unstable if it's not working correctly. Conversely, a Windows PC can be perfectly stable if everything is working together correctly. But relatively speaking, with the Mac being a much more single-vendor controlled system, there's just less to go wrong. And that is what makes it the more inherently stable computing environment. Exceptions notwithstanding.
Page content last updated 26 December 2009